Fr Dhiya Azziz, a Franciscan of Iraqi origins, pastor of Yacoubieh (in Syria), abducted in Syria the day before Christmas Eve, “has been released” and “is doing well.” The announcement, with a brief statement released late Monday evening was made by the Custody of the Holy Land which had given the news of his abduction on St. Stephen’s day. “For reasons of confidentiality – the statement continues – we cannot give more details,” but “we wish thanked those who helped us to secure his release.” Interviewed by AsiaNews, sources of the Custody express “gratitude” for the release of kidnapped priest but, currently, can make no further official comment on the matter. The caution is necessary, in order not to disclose details on the kidnapping and compromise ongoing negotiations for the liberation of other priests and religious in the hands of terrorist groups or common criminal gangs. The last official contact dates back to the morning of December 23, at about 9. Then from that point, the statement adds, there has been no news, and “no one knows where he is.” All traces have also been lost of the other passengers on board the taxi. In all probability there are extremist groups or criminal gangs behind the kidnappings, who use ransom moneys to fuel their terrorist network. Moreover, the “very chaotic” situation in the country – at war for five years – gives little hope for an imminent release.
The very brief official statement is here.
“Conflicting news had nevertheless led people to believe that he had been taken by jihadists affiliated to Al-Nusra Jabhat (Front),” al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, the church said.
“This group has denied any involvement in his kidnapping and allegedly led the police investigation in neighbouring villages which led to his liberation,” it said.
The Iraq-born priest was “allegedly abducted by another group of jihadists eager to profit on his release”. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said the 41-year-old was taken from the “convent of the Immaculate Conception, where he was living,” in the majority-Christian village of Yacoubieh. Most of Idlib province is under the control of Al-Nusra and its allies since a large-scale operation earlier this year to expel the regime.